Just because we are mothers doesn't mean we've left our brains, or our feminism, at the delivery room door. This Mother's Day, feminist moms like me who also are women of faith would appreciate any of these books. They reassure us that we are not alone in our struggles trying to practice our faith, whatever it may be, in the face of entrenched patriarchy.
In writing my own book, Catholic Women Confront Their Church: Stories of Hurt and Hope, which will be published in September, I relied on these and dozens of other books to deepen my understanding of faith seen through the perspectives of gifted, thoughtful women. These books are among my favorites. Some are out of print, but all are available.
Here is my list:
Rome Has Spoken: A Guide to Forgotten Papal Statements, and How They Have Changed Through the Centuries: Sister Maureen Fiedler and Linda Rabben drew upon many ecclesiastical documents to demonstrate that even the Catholic Church changes. Scholarly but accessible, this book offers women like me the ammunition to counter conservative Catholics who insist that the Vatican's edicts are as permanent, and as impermeable, as granite. Fiedler is the host of Interfaith Voices, carried by 87 public radio stations throughout the country. Rabben is an anthropologist and human rights advocate and faculty fellow at American University, Washington.
Hagar's Daughters: Womanist Ways of Being in the World: This slim volume, written by African American theologian Diana L. Hayes, reframes the Old Testament story of Abraham and Sarah and his concubine, Hagar, telling it from Hagar's perspective. Hayes celebrates the strength and spirituality of women of color. Hayes was the the first African American woman to earn a Pontifical Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Catholic University of Louvain. But many of her books are very personal, and deeply human.
The Book of Women's Sermons: Hearing God in Each Other's Voices: The Reverend E. Lee Hancock has brought together compelling essays from women clergy from many faiths. Women rabbis, ministers, and Catholic theologians tackle issues ranging from empathy and betrayal to the resurrection and motherhood. If anyone believes that sermons are the province of men, this book offers a powerful demonstration of the eloquence of women of faith.
In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose: Alice Walker, author of the critically acclaimed, The Color Purple, went on to write this small but powerful book. It is her meditation on what it means to be black and the influence of black writers on her own life.
Women scholars who developed womanist theology were inspired by Walker's definition of the term, womanist. A womanist, she wrote, is connected "to the entire community and to the world," and is "concerned" about the welfare of both black men and black women, since they both are victims of oppression. Womanism is more expansive and more joyful than feminism, in Walker's analysis. Walker wrote that a womanist is to a feminist as the color purple is to lavender.
An Anthology of Snakebites: On Women, Love and Philosophy: You don't have to espouse any faith to appreciate Gretchen Reydams-Schils' witty take on the "great books" that often form the foundation of a liberal arts education. The Belgian-born professor, who chairs the Program of Liberal Studies at Notre Dame University, has written extensively in her subject area, ancient philosophy. She jokes that this book is her "illegitimate child."
Reydams-Schils imagines a conversation between two women confronting the sexism endemic in the stories of Adam and Eve and original sin, medieval lovers Eloise and Abelard, and Socrates and his wife, Xantippe. The two women - one a Catholic academic and the other a non-religious journalist - meet weekly for coffee. Their commentary affirms the power of women to interpret the classics of Western literature through a different lens.